Who: The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)

Where: United Kingdom

When: 3 July 2019

Law stated as at: 6 August 2019

What happened:

The CMA has launched an investigation into online platforms which make revenues in the UK through digital advertising, to assess whether their role in the supply of digital advertising services has an adverse effect on the interests of consumers.

The broad remit of the investigation means that any online platform which facilitates interactions between users and collect data about these interactions will be under the microscope. This would include search engines which serve ads beside search results, as well as social media platforms which display advertising alongside user or licensed content.

The CMA wants to better understand whether:

  • the market power of prominent platforms in these areas adversely affects users;
  • there is a lack of consumer control over how consumers’ data is used to monetise these platforms; and
  • competition in the digital advertising supply chain is distorted as a result of the market power of certain online platforms.

The CMA is aware that the investigation has a very wide scope, and it is likely to have received input from lots interested parties, including platforms, advertisers, agencies, intermediaries, publishers and commentators. The deadline for commenting is now closed, and the CMA intends to publish its final report by July 2020.

Why this matters:

The CMA’s investigation is yet another example of online platforms coming under increased regulatory scrutiny in the UK and beyond. It forms part of the CMA’s wider Digital Markets Strategy, which was launched on the same date as the online platforms investigation was announced and is geared towards ensuring wider consumer protection. This follows announcements by other governmental, regulatory and industry stakeholders which are likely to impact online platforms in the future, such as:

  • the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s Online Harms White Paper, which sets out the government’s plans for online safety measures;
  • the Cairncross Review into sustainable journalism in the UK, which considers the impact of platforms and digital advertising;
  • the European Commission’s New Deal for Consumers, which aims to strengthen consumer rights and transparency online; and
  • the EU Platform to Business Regulation, which will impose consumer-style rights for businesses which use online platforms/intermediaries.